Mother’s Day is still a unique holiday for me—this is only my second one being a mom, and while I do think much of it is a Hallmark holiday, I also think it’s nice to honor the people who’ve helped us become who we are today—mothers, stepmothers, aunts, grandmothers, female mentors, other-mothers, and so forth. I love reading memoirs and books about different kinds of motherhood experiences, because I think too often, we see the social media-approved kind of motherhood. You know the kind: everyone is always happy, kids impeccably dressed, moms with stylish clothes, good hair, and drinking hot coffee—and always with the hashtag #blessed, used unironically.
Me? I’m over here in my mom uniform of a geeky tee and cardigan (easy access for nursing), trying to wrangle my toddler and keep him from shoving all of his toys in back of the couch, guzzling my coffee before it turns to complete ice, and hoping I brushed my teeth, because I’m too exhausted to accurately remember. And my #blessed captions? Yeah, that’s sarcasm.
But even behind those picture-perfect Instagram posts lie stories—often ones we never expected, which is why I crave stories of motherhood. Whether memoir or fiction, I want more. I want the messy, beautiful, gross, painful, amazing, heart-wrenching stories about raising tiny humans. Because it isn’t easy—but reading about other people doing it makes it feel a little less difficult.
Here are some that I’ve read recently that have been recently published or are coming out soon.
End of the Rope: Mountains, Marriage, and Motherhood by Jan Redford (May 8th)
As someone who would NEVER EVER climb a mountain, this book was incredibly fascinating to me. I liked this book because it accurately reflected what women know to be true, but what movies and books often play down: motherhood is just a part of our larger stories. This was a memoir about love—romantic, and that of sport. It also illustrated conflicts between work, marriage, and motherhood, and the constant examination of identity.
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I was sent the newly released paperback version of this, and while I’d heard good things about it last year when it came out in hardback, I never got around to reading it. Well, I cracked it open (it’s a pretty thin, portable volume) and couldn’t stop reading. I took screenshots of pages and sent them to a friend of mine who’d just had a baby. Written as a response to a friend who asked her how to raise a feminist, Adichie gives gentle advice while raising a lot of important questions. This is something I want to give ALL of my friends who are pregnant or newly mothers.
The Rebel Mama’s Handbook For (Cool) Moms Vol 1: Early Motherhood by Aleksandra Jassem and Nikita Stanley
This “handbook” was written by the creators of the website The Rebel Mama, the “anti-mom blog.” (Don’t worry, there’s a Rebel Papa section on the website, too). Funded by Kickstarter, this book is the antithesis to the fear-mongering and guilt-inducing What to Expect. Covering everything from what you really need to put on your registry and how to deal with the deluge of unwanted and unasked-for advice you get once you start showing, to what really happens after birth, and dealing with the mess and tedium—yes, tedium!—of a newborn. There is so much more, though—it’s jam-packed with girlfriend-to-girlfriend advice about mom-dating, dressing for a changing postpartum body, and basically, I wish I had this two years ago when I gave birth. (You can buy the book from the website).
The Mere Wife: A Novel by Maria Dahvana Headley (July 17th)
I admit, when I got the publicity materials for this—“Beowulf in the suburbs”—I was not won over. But fellow Rioters told me her writing was wonderful, so I gave it a chance, and oh, am I so glad I did. This novel was like nothing I’d ever read, and I’ve included it in this list because its two depictions of motherhood are gut-wrenching and tender, even in their violence. The two women live alongside each other, but couldn’t be more different—a rich socialite and a veteran whom everyone saw die on television. Each has a son, and when the sons form a friendship, no one’s life is spared from the fallout.
Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines, edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens and Mai’a Williams
You need to read this anthology. Like, now. Predominantly written by women of color and other marginalized mothers (queer, single, poor, Latinx, disabled, etc), this book is powerful, it’s real, and it’s beautiful. There are essays, poems, manifestos, critical pieces, and everything in between. This book looks at performing motherhood as a radical event: raising the next generation, against all odds, in the face of hardship and difficulty, and opens the space for communication about justice, disparities, and equality.
Conceivability: What I Learned Exploring the Frontiers of Fertility by Elizabeth Katkin (June 19th)
Did you know that nearly 1 in 10 American women will seek medical assistance regarding fertility? We see the social media stories about women in their 40s and even 50s giving birth, but we don’t stop to think about how they got there. We assume now that egg freezing is available, our biological clocks can be put on hold. It’s not that easy, and Katkin weaves memoir, reportage, and criticism in this important book. There is an element of privilege—most states do not require mandatory insurance coverage for infertility, and she has the resources to do 10 IVF cycles and travel internationally to pursue motherhood. Despite that, the book is well-researched and an important one to add to the literature about assisted reproduction.
I’m Just Happy to be Here: a Memoir of Renegade Mothering by Janelle Hanchett
Hanchett is the creator of the blog “Renegade Mothering,” and I was really excited to read something honest, something real—as she says, something that blows apart “the sanctity of motherhood.” This is Hanchett’s memoir of addiction and eventual recovery, and it’s not an easy read. She doesn’t portray herself well at all, and at several points, I had to put the book aside, I was so exasperated with her—but it is this commitment to honesty that made me go back and finish the book. It might not be for everyone, but it was nice to read something different about the motherhood journey. I did, however, want more of the “after,” but there’s always her blog.
Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks (August 21st)
When Brooks left her four-year-old son in the car, watching something on his tablet, as she ran into the store to quickly buy something, she found herself on the news, at the center of what can only be called a massive shitstorm. She was accused of child endangerment, and people had super strong feelings about her actions. It led her to examine the concept of parenthood today—how parenthood is now a competitive sport, everyone under constant scrutiny, and the anxiety that comes with constant surveillance.
What books about motherhood do you find yourself reading?
Looking for more books on motherhood? Check out 100 Must-Read Books About Mothers and Motherhood, 10 Great Books about Mother-Daughter Relationships, and all of our motherhood discussions.